GREENFIELD — She had never gotten much education, she said. As a result, she felt no one really cared what she had to say.
But that was changing, thanks to a training program teaching her and others to tell stories from the Bible. Darren Wise of Greenfield was there in Africa as the native woman told of a new confidence growing inside.
“Now, with these stories, people do want to hear what I have to say,” he remembers her saying.
Wise is a 2015 Purdue University graduate who decided to postpone a career in industrial engineering to work as an intern with Story Runners.
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The Cru (Campus Crusade for Christ) ministry helps people in parts of the world with strong oral traditions develop two-minute, easily memorized versions of various stories from the Bible.
The African woman’s story was one of several moments on that first overseas trip that resonated with Wise — so much that he’s decided to intern for another year and is raising the financial support to make that happen.
“When Darren returned from his first trip last fall … I asked him for his general reaction,” Melissa Hawley, who works in mobilization and training for Story Runners, wrote in an email to the Daily Reporter. “He told me, ‘I’m already ready to sign up for next year.’ He was sold.”
Greg Smith said he is not surprised Wise was drawn to Story Runners or that Wise wants to continue for another year. He’s known Wise’s family for a long time through sports, his children and from a small group with his parents through Park Chapel Christian Church.
“Darren wants to encourage everyone to be totally devoted followers of Christ, in his own circle of influence and around the world,” Smith said.
Smith helped coach Wise in junior high track. He knows Wise has used his athletic abilities on trips, playing a lot of basketball and soccer to connect with people. But in Wise he also sees leadership ability, energy, vision and compassion — someone well-suited for another year with Story Runners and the increased responsibility that accompanies it.
For each School of Storying, a Story Runners team visits a country to work with native speakers of the local language on telling the story.
“If we just take our English story … it sometimes will miss out on some cultural aspects that you otherwise might not get,” Wise said.
Typically, the team works with 18 nationals and three translators. The ultimate test of their collaboration is having a local non-Christian translate the story back into English to see if meanings have stayed intact. The finished story is recorded so that local storytelling participants can listen and practice long beyond the five or six weeks the Story Runners team is in the country.
Near the end of the team’s time in country, the local people trained in storytelling are sent out to practice telling the story.
Wise has made three overseas trips with Story Runners. The last one was to Haiti. The first two were to the continent of Africa; names of specific countries are kept quiet because some in those areas would be hostile to Christian work going on there.
That discretion is meant to protect the local participants more than the Story Runners staff coming from the United States, Wise said; it’s one thing to be polite and welcoming to strangers who are Christians and quite another if a family member changes religions.
A participant in the program during Wise’s second trip, to a different location in Africa, found this out when he made the decision to convert.
“He almost immediately got thrown out of his house,” Wise said. “People in those areas really feel the cost of following Christ … more so than we typically do in the United States.”
But when people feel the call, they go. Six others on that second trip also decided to become Christians, Wise said.
And so, from spiritual realizations made to confidence gained, Wise saw the effect the stories — 42 of them, spanning the Bible from creation to the second coming of Jesus — had on the people in the program.
Such moments made packing malaria medicine or taking an eight-hour, pothole-plagued truck ride in 95-degree heat a small price to pay.
And so, Wise is hoping his own story with Story Runners has a next chapter.
“Stories are effective,” he said. “We get to tell a series of stories that make up the greatest story ever told. (It’s) a great way to invest a short amount of time for all of eternity.”